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The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy

This is most likely the book I use the most. It claims to be an update of her seminal The Cuisines of Mexico and the lesser The Tortilla Book and Mexican Regional Cooking. She says the recipes are clarifyied but the result is they're simpler. The original Cuisines of Mexico had very long, pedantic instructions a la Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which probably were appropriate for the time. The problem is she refers to the earlier out-of-print books so you really need those in addition to this one. Still, I love this book and would take it with me if I were travelling for any extended period of time.

 

The Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison

I'm surprised how much I like this book and how many things I've made from it. It has a real border feel (as in gringo friendly) but the border seems fuzzy and a melting pot as opposed to a dumbed down version of Mexican food.

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I know I'm a little late coming in on this topic, but I just joined yesterday :lol: .

 

I seem to collect books the way a dryer collects lint and parting with them always seems to be a lot like parting with children. As a consequence I've got more books than I care to admit to, and simply keeping buying new bookcases as needed. A lot of my collection is cookbooks and a significant part are Mexican or Latin American cookbooks. After seeing this thread I took a quick look at what I actually have on a book shelf and this is what I came up with --

 

I own every Diana Kennedy book and have cooked from all of them. The Cuisines of Mexico and the Tortilla Book being my two favorites.

 

I also own every Rick Bayless cookbook, my preferrenes being his first book Authentic Mexican and Salsas That Cook. (I have also had the opportunity to cook with Rick for a week in Oaxaca; he's a fabulous teacher and I have tremendous respect for his skill, knowledge level and for what he's accomplished. And, no, I am not an RB groupie, although I understand he does have them)

 

The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking - Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (have cooked from this book and it's actually pretty good)

 

The Book of Latin American Cooking - Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (also not bad)

 

The Art of Mexican Cooking - Jan Aaron & Georgine Sachs Salom (disappointing)

 

The South American Cookbook - Cora, Rose & Bob Brown (has it's moments)

 

Cocina Mexicana - Alexis Armijo Dicus (untried)

 

Cooking the Carribean Way - Mary Steiner (not bad for an old book, it's in metric)

 

Frida's Feasts - Rivera & Cole (I personally haven't cooked from this book yet - I always forget I own it - but I do know people that have cooked from the book and like it)

 

Cocina Mexicana - Adela Fernandez

 

Leith's Latin American Cookery - Valeria Sisti (VERY disappointing)

 

La Parilla - Reed Heron (untried)

 

Tamales - Pyles, Miller & Sedler (have not yet tried, recipes somewhat challenging)

 

The Food & Life of Oaxaca - Zarzela Martinez (love the section on making chocolate at home)

 

Season's of My Heart - Susanna Trilling (have also cooked with her at her school in Oaxaca. We made black mole <to die for>. Her recipe for chocolate bread pudding is outstanding)

 

Nuevo Tex-Mex - David Garrindo & Rob Walsh

 

Cuisine of the Water Gods - Quintana (have successfully cooked from this book)

 

Tastes of Mexico - Quintana (do NOT use this book for cooking, there are quite a few errors in it which were the result of bad editing, and the recipes don't work very well)

 

Sunset Magazine's Mexican Cookbook

 

Memories of a Cuban Kitchen - Mary Urritia Randleman & Joan Schwartz

 

La Cocina Jarocha (cooking of VeraCruz) - Lourdes Beltran (in Spanish)

 

English*Spanish Cookbook - Ruth Firstbrook (old book by an ex-pat, sort of Americanized. Kind of an interesting look at upper class cooking in Mexico in the mid 20th century)

 

Alquimias Y Atmosferas del Sabor - Dona Carmen Titita (in Spanish, with the most spectacular food photography I think I've ever seen)

 

Mexico the Beautiful - Marilyn Tausend (I've also cooked twice with Marilyn and think her books are way too under-rated)

 

Diccionario Enciclopedia de Gastronomica Mexicana - Ricardo Munoz Zurita (in Spanish, and as of October 2004 the translation process was at a standstill. Tremendous resource even if you don't read Spanish well. Ricardo is one of only 7 Master Chef's in Mexico and currently has his own restaurant in D.F. called Oro Y Azul (or it may be Azul & Oro) in the Cultural Center on the UNAM campus. I've learned to make tamales and chile rellenos with Ricardo)

 

Something that I frequently purchase while in Mexico, and related to books, are the thin little magazines (50 pages or less) devoted to cooking. You can find them in any papeleria, bookstore, or even Sanborn's. They cost about $2.00 +/- and won't weigh down a suitcase like books. They can be about any topic from Pavo & Polla to Gelatina to Enseladas to Comida Dietetica. If you've got any food related Spanish and are a reasonably proficient cook you can figure the recipes out pretty easily. Another plus are all the advertisements for Mexican food products and appliances.

 

So, there you have it, the short list of my Mexican and Latin American cookbooks

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I know I'm a little late coming in on this topic, but I just joined yesterday. 

 

Seasons of My Heart - Susanna Trilling (have also cooked with her at her school in Oaxaca.  We made black mole <to die for>.  Her recipe for chocolate bread pudding is outstanding)

First, welcome. And thanks for taking the time to make that absolutely wonderful and informative post. I, for one, am thrilled to see another Mexican enthusiast. I hope you'll join us on our 'Mexican cooking project' thread.

 

And I'd like your opinion on a criticism others have made about Susana Trilling's books; ie, that she doesn't give substitutes for difficult-to-find ingredients.

 

What is your opinion of this criticism, and what do you do about it?

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Frida's Feasts - Rivera & Cole (I personally haven't cooked from this book yet - I always forget I own it - but I do know people that have cooked from the book and like it)

There's something odd and quirky about this book and I do not care for Frida-worship on the whole, but everything I've made from this book has been a winner. Some of the instructions are a little vague but I actually like that.

 

Welcome, kalypso! Glad to read your post.

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Okay, apparently posting here is an IQ test. I've already managed to accidentally delete one reply, let's see if I can actually get this one to the list :(

 

Hello Jaymes and RG.

 

I read the Mexican Cooking Project thread a couple days ago and will probably participate, but not with the current rajas recipe (which sounded devine, BTW). I work in education and the Spring semester just started so I'm a bit swamped for the next couple of weeks. After that I'll have some time.

 

Substitutions, subsitutions............my comments and perspective? Well, I guess it's all relative.

 

I think my first question would be, how do you define "hard to find". What are your local resources and what are you willing to do to acquire "hard to find" ingredients. (And I'm using "you" in the collective sense of the word, not you, Jaymes, specifically)

 

My second question would probably be, what's the objective with the dish? Are you trying to be as authentic as possible, trying to reproduce the haunting flavor of a dish you enjoyed in Mexico, or are you just trying to make something new and interesting that isn't the usual tacos/enchiladas/burritos fare? Having a frame of reference for what a dish is supposed to taste like really helps in learning to make useful substitutions.

 

For a third question, I'd ask what your level of experience was with both Mexican cooking and Mexican ingredients. If it's fairly broad or well established, substitutions and hard to find ingredients probably won't pose that much of a problem. If you're just learning, it probably is more of a challenge. Really getting a feel for what a lot of these ingredients taste like raw, plain, or otherwise unadorned is really helpful because then you've at least got an idea of what flavors you're trying to reproduce :(

 

There are tons of resources out there for Mexican products. I happen to live in San Diego, CA. I don't have a super hard time sourcing most items. There is a thriving (mostly) Mexican community here, or I can go to LA if I want Oaxacan imports, or I can cross the border and go to the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana. When I took the Mole Negro class with Susanna Trilling I specifically asked her how hard it would be to find all the ingredients in San Diego and she said I'd be likely to get everything at the Mercado Hidalgo except the black chiles, which are pretty much indigenous to Oaxaca and not even that common in other parts of Mexico. Both Rick Bayless and Marilyn Tausend have echoed Susanna's advice. Finding Mexican ingredients isn't that hard for me. It may be time consuming, but I generally can find most of what I need in a 50 mile radius.

 

The Chile Guy in New Mexico is an invaluable source of fresh, dried and ground chiles. You can order on-line and a large number of serious Mexican restaurants in the U.S. order from him. Susanna Trilling's chocolate de metate is available through Zingerman's on-line, though it's quite pricey at $15/lb. Mayor Domo chocolate, the primary brand of Mexican chocolate from Oaxaca, is available on-line through Chocosphere.com. Can't find it? Grow it. Epazote and hoja santa grow fairly easily in the temperate parts of the U.S. where there are mild winters and little to no frost. Also, you can bring back lots of dried, canned and jarred items from Mexico. I routinely bring back dried chiles, beans, herbs, vanilla beans, mole pastes, salt, jamaica flowers. Bringing back a stash of the stuff straight from the source, or getting someone to bring you back something, is a huge help.

 

I've been a serious student of la comida Mexicana for the last 20+ years and I've been lucky enough to have been able to study with some of the key players in the field. When I cook Mexican I'm not necessarily looking for it to be rigorously authentic or traditional. I'm looking for my finished products to have balanced flavors that clearly reflect the orgins of the recipes and maintain it's integrity. Since I'm the one eating it, it's got to suit my tastes, so I'll tweak according to my own palate. I've a sufficient level of experience with the basic ingredients so that I can usually figure out a reasonable substitute. If I don't have any piloncillo, for example, I might use dark brown sugar with a touch of molasses added. No hierba buena? A little mint, or leave it out.

 

Most Mexicans use what's readily available to them. If they don't have an ingredient, they'll either substitute with something more abundant, omit it, or not make the dish at all. Pechuga mezcal requires certain ripe fruits for the final distillation. If the fruits aren't all at the proper degree of ripeness at the same time, the village making it, just doesn't make it that year.

 

As for Susanna Trilling, I think you all need to remember, she's a traditionalist. It's important to her to preserve the traditional methods, techniques and recipes. In person she will tell you if you can sub or not, and if so, with what. But recommending a whole raft of substitutions ultimately changes the recipes so that they may no longer resemble the original. I guess when I evaluate recipes I'm looking at them more to see if they'll work and if the flavor profile of the end product is something I'll like, rather than how authentic they may be or how readily available the ingredients are. Diana Kennedy's recipes work in spades . You can even expand them for larger yields. Rick Bayless' recipes are almost as accurate. I've had a few failures with his, but those also could have been prep errors on my part as well. Susanna Trilling's recipes are basically sound and will work. I wouldn't worry so much about finding the absolute correct or same ingredient. I'd worry more about learning the techniques and flavor profiles and learning how to tweak the final dish to suit your own tastes.

 

Sorry for the long response, I guess I got a little carried away :(

 

RG - I used to not be a big fan of Frida either. I did graduate work in Latin American Studies at UCLA many years ago and somewhere along the line did a research paper on her. She's still not my favorite, and I think many of her paintings are just plain strange, but I do have enormous respect for her and what she accomplished. She lived her life with an intensity that I think few of us can match. I think it helped that she lived in culturally and artistically interesting times

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I think the point of that was a thread of diverse people and with different skill levels in Mexican cooking having a little fun and learning a little something. Some of us are really into it and for some it's a lark. Not much more.

 

But I think you want to put your ideas on the food project in that thread, not here in a thead about books.

 

RG - I used to not be a big fan of Frida either. I did graduate work in Latin American Studies at UCLA many years ago and somewhere along the line did a research paper on her. She's still not my favorite, and I think many of her paintings are just plain strange, but I do have enormous respect for her and what she accomplished. She lived her life with an intensity that I think few of us can match. I think it helped that she lived in culturally and artistically interesting times

 

Sorry- I wasn't clear. I think she's great. I don't like the icon status that has grown around her. No fault of her own!

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I'd agree - Frida's Fiestas cooks very well, kind of unexpectedly.

 

Also my view on cookbooks and difficult to obtain ingredients is that they provide the impetus for us to learn more and create a market for different things. A cookbook author who is writing about a particular food culture has to make a decision: to describe dishes as 'authentically' as possible or only write about what the target reader can access with ease. Both approaches are valid but I know which one I find interesting.

 

v

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Actually, since I've lived a great deal of my life in the American southwest (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) in addition to some 35 other places, ingredients have rarely been a problem for me.

 

But I have heard that particular criticism before about Susana Trilling -- that it would be nice if she had included some suggestions for substitutions for ingredients not so easy to come by in, say, the UK, as they are in San Diego. Many other authors of Mexican cookbooks have managed to do that.

 

So, Kalypso -- your level of knowledge certainly is breathtaking! And you say you're in education? I'd point out what RG says -- some of us take this much less seriously than others.

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Re Trilling- I just don't think she's as compelling a writer as the others. This is not to say she's not an excellent cook and teacher. DK can offer subs and remain true to the cause.

 

Back to the books:

 

From My Mexican Kitchen by Diana Kennedy

This, for me, is food porno. I love everything about this book except that it should be twice as long. The photography is beautiful and the light is slightly oversaturated giving the food an other worldy look (as opposed to the current trend for half shadowed, blurry images.)

I don't know that I've ever actually cooked from it but it inspires me to no end!

 

Tamales by Miller, Pyles and Sedlar

Yet another book that carries on the myth that margarine and Criso are "healthier" than freshly rendered lard. And where are the traditional tamales? The recipes are for modern, fussy creations with little regard for what most of us know as the real thing. Why have I kept this book?

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You may be right about Susanna Trilling. Personally, I don't think her writing style compares to either Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless, although her cooking is certainly on par with both of theirs. I will admit to reading DK in bed at night, much like a novel, only with recipes :(

 

I was given the Tamale book by a chef friend who also does food writing and gets cookbooks sent to him all the time. This one showed up in his mail so he passed it along to me as he wasn't that interested in it. After taking a look at it, my reaction is pretty much the same as yours. I've got so many great tamale recipes, I'm not sure I'd cook from this cookbook either..................

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Kalypso, welcome aboard! You're going to like it here at Mouthfuls and I'm tickled that you'll be posting. I'm more excited about this Mexico board than I have been about any in the past.

 

God, Jaymes called me a maestra. I don't know whether to faint, laugh, or blush. What a compliment.

 

The truth is, we are all maestros with so much to share with one another.

 

Cristina

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  • 2 weeks later...

I decided to order the Susanna Palazuelos book, based on your recommendation and the reviews at Amazon. I've only recently started collecting Mexican cookbooks, and I started with The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by DK, which I found disappointing. I already make more complicated recipes of the dishes I found in her book, and so it wasn't very helpful, although I have not yet read all of it. It would have been better with photos. I've watched Rick Bayless on TV a few times, but it did not inspire me to want one of his books.

 

The second book I got is Cocina traditional mexicana by Blanca Nieto, which I just got last week and haven't had time to make any of the recipes. Unfortunately all the measurements are metric, as they are in the next book I got, RECETAS de todo México, Típicas y SABROSAS by Angeles de la Rosa. This one at least has an index, and I've already found several recipes that I want to make from it. They are a bit more complex than the other two books. Lastly, I got The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, which includes a recipe for empanadas made with flour - something missing from most of the other books, although DK has a recipe for empanadas de San Cristóbal that uses a flour pastry.

 

After I get to try some of the recipes, I'll post more info.

 

BTW, I could not view the picture of the bookstore in D.F. What is the address of the store? I will be in D.F. in three weeks and might want to visit the store.

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"The recipes are for modern, fussy creations with little regard for what most of us know as the real thing. Why have I kept this book?"

 

That's funny. I feel the same way about that book but just can't seem to send it packing. I did use the technique for dying the corn husks in hibiscus flower water. They come up a wonderful dark pink colour but really don't last after you steam the tamales.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just received the México the Beautiful Cookbook, and I have to say it is my favorite so far - plus it is the only one I've seen with a recipe for goat, which is one of my favorite dishes in Mexico. Thanks for recommending it!

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